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Message To Cathy And Repower America: Green Power Is Not A Climate Change Solution

By Bill Henderson

17 March, 2009

I keep getting these e-mails from Cathy Zoi. They are all the same: green power is good, green power is jobs; clean electricity within 10 years; you can make a difference by joining our petition for clean cars or the green stimulus package or cap and trade, etc. But she always implies that green power, clean cars, or cap and trade are solutions to climate change and although I tried to e-mail her back asking why she is mis-educating Americans at such a crucial time she never replied. So:

Hey Cathy Zoi and Repower America,

climate change is an immediate tipping point danger. There is no time to develop green power as a mitigation solution. 7% of the world's population (us) are causing this humanity threatening problem. We need to get serious about climate change, seek treatment for our addictions and radically reduce our emissions. We can't remain in New Denial. Why are you using weasel words like the coal industry? They pretend that we can use technology like carbon capture and storage (CCS) when it hasn't been developed, won't be practical for decades if ever, instead of doing what we have to do. Which is stop our use of coal and dirty oil like Alberta's oilsands immediately. (And when CCS is a practical reality then we can burn these fossil fuels again.)

Repower America is a good enviro endeavor. There are many good reasons to support green power. A future clean energy, prosperous America is in everyone's interest, but it's time to take bold action on carbon pollution because the Arctic ice cap is melting, methane is already bubbling up from melting permafrost and the Arctic Ocean floor; the Amazon is beginning to dry out and is projected to become a source of greenhouse gases (GHGs) instead of a very large sink.

There is no time to lose and bold action is needed. But instead of advocating for a reasonable path back from that tipping point and not past Hansen's point of no return, you and Al mis-educate that developing green power, higher gas mileage, or the use of financial instruments like cap and trade can reduce emissions anywhere near what is needed and fast enough so that climate change doesn't become runaway, uncontrollable.

"I would like to be optimistic that we'll survive, but I've got no good reason to be," says (Paul) Crutzen. "In order to be safe, we would have to reduce our carbon emissions by 70 per cent by 2015. We are currently putting in 3 per cent more each year."

We, the 7%, the 750 million, American and global middle class presently produce annual GHG emissions of 4 - 5 metric tonnes (mT) each. The other 6 billion people on the planet each contribute less than 1 mT annually. We must reduce our emissions to a global equitable 0.2 - 0.6 mT so as to get back under 350 ppm before the Arctic ice cap melts entirely.

Cathy, you are messaging in favor of green power, clean electricity, and cap and trade as solutions when you know that making the transition this way will take decades. You are saying keep on flying and driving around, shopping at the mall and otherwise doing not enough so that humanity and all the species with which we presently share creation on this small blue planet face extinction.

And that's what's going to happen without bold action. We need emergency legislation, a Secretary of Transition, and wartime mobilization-style reconfiguration of our socio -economy. But no one is telling the American public about this option; instead all of the messaging keeps us within New Denial.

New Denial: Yes, climate change is happening, but it is a gradually building problem with weird weather, melting ice, endangered polar bears and bug infestations and maybe catastrophic consequences late in the century; but we have time to mitigate with technology - new clean power sources and carbon capture and sequestering - and instruments like carbon taxes or cap and trade, completely within business as usual so that except for a few smart consumer choices our lifestyles, jobs and socio-economies do not need to really change.

Just like industry promising clean coal, the green power messaging just mis-educates - it wrongfoots those who do care about doing the right thing about climate change. Systemic change is needed: de-caring society not just better mileage or electric cars or hybrids - haven't we learned the lessons from biofuels, for just the car example. We need systemic change like relocalization, rationing and a global Green New Deal, not thin edge of the wedge economic instruments like cap and trade that promise emission reduction over time but leave oil and gas and coal use rising over this crucial decade.

Even Tom Friedman knows that the present economy has no future. Climate change is the most serious symptom of our limits to growth predicament. Clean energy isn't the salvation of the consumer economy either. You can't make an economy dependent upon retail consumption sustainable. There is no sustainability of more. Powering down and not repowering America is the only path out of this deathtrap. Green power to keep living our present lifestyle is not a real climate change solution.

Cathy you are saying to Americans: 'Yes we can continue to be energy obese and wasteful; yes we can continue to live wasteful addict lifestyles; yes we can continue to use oil and gas while we take decades to transition to a future clean energy economy'. I don't understand? Are you saying that the American lifestyle isn't negotiable? It is our pollution that is threatening humanity and maybe most life on Earth.

You must know that Repower America's messaging about green power and cap and trade is an illusion that keeps us from recognizing the key step recommended by Sutton /Spratt in CLIMATE CODE RED, by Lester Brown in PLAN-B 3.0 (where he describes a realistic plan to achieve 80% emission reduction by 2020), and by the UK 100 Month group and many others - use emergency legislation to escape political and economic business as usual where systemic change is not possible. America and the world needs systemic change so that we can transition to a socio-economy where it is possible to achieve emission reduction of a scale necessary to get us back from that tipping point and under 350. So we can get to an America where the average John and Cathy can live fulfilling lifestyles without helping to destroy creation.

You know this, but you still message green power and cap and trade? Mis-educating Americans, instead of telling Americans the truth about climate change, our denial, the scale of mitigation necessary, and the only path to climate change solution?

I'm sure you and Al have the best of intentions but you didn't answer my reply so I'm guessing that your thinking goes: 'By getting Americans to support these beginning steps like green power, cap and trade and smart consumer choices and individual carbon footprint responsibility, we can most effectively build a movement pushing America in this direction'. You are being pragmatic in trying to achieve what is possible; you want to be positive, can do; you don't want to paralyze Americans with a negative message. And that's the correct approach IF climate change was only a gradual, long term problem and mitigation was possible within continuing business as usual politics and economics - but it isn't. It's an emergency.

Certainly, individual American commitment and the full development of green power and other wedges will be necessary, but there isn't time without the emergency legislation and mobilization. These puny, tiny steps will be nowhere near enough and we will look back in anguish at a time where we wasted our last opportunity to make meaningful change but didn't because we were addicts, too stupid and preoccupied with our own temporal problems to recognize the consequences of our pollution.

You want to empower America for change and help the Obama Admin put America on the path to green energy and a green economy. The best of intentions, but I think you know the immediate, emergency, tipping point danger - failure is not an option; the problem is our responsibility. So why aren't you messaging that climate change is an emergency Cathy, and pushing Obama to consider climate change as this emergency requiring real and bold action?

bill (at)


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